40,000-year-old skeletons to be returned to Sarawak from United States

Roll out the red carpet and color us pleasantly surprised, because Sarawak’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports announced today that they intend to repatriate 100 skeletons unearthed in the state that are believed to be around 40,000 years old.

The prehistoric remains were discovered in Sarawak’s Niah Caves decades ago, and are currently being held at the University of Florida, in the United States.

“It is hoped that the ancient human skeletons will be brought here in February or March,” Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, the provincial culture chief, said in a speech while attending an event in Kuching today.

The skeletons were excavated between 1957 and 1967 at the caves under the supervision of the Sarawak Museum’s first curator, Tom Harrisson. At the time, the state did not have the proper facilities to carry out further research on the bones, and they were sent abroad. Initially they were sent to the University of Nevada for research purposes, and later moved to Florida where studies were completed.

Upon investigation by the state’s ministry over ownership, authorities here discovered that the skeletons were only a loan to researchers, and that the Sarawak state government was keen to have them returned.

More than 200 skeletons were discovered near the western entrance of the Niah Caves, a national park in the Miri Division of the state. The limestone caves are believed to contain evidence of the oldest recorded human settlement in east Malaysia, with human activity dating back to 46,000 years ago.

Inside the caves, archeologists have found tools, pottery, shell jewelry, boats, mats, iron tools, ceramics, and glass beads dating back to the Iron Age.

More than 100 human bones are planned to be exhibited at the Sarawak Museum Complex after renovation works are completed at the end of this year.

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